Wednesday, July 6, 2022

We need more than a plan to tackle Covid

Anthony Albanese

One thing Labor has learned from tackling past global crises is that a plan for Australia to get through this crisis has to be more than just a plan in name.

A genuine plan to get us through Covid-19 involves expertise, learning from past mistakes, addressing the problems of the present and anticipating the challenges of the future.

This is what underpins Labor’s four-part approach to overcoming the pandemic: a speedy vaccination rollout, a safe end to lockdowns, protecting our children and, armed with the best expert advice, preparing for what’s coming.

Those preparations mean avoiding own goals such as the one the Government scored when it rebuffed an approach from Pfizer in June last year offering early access to its vaccine.

Scott Morrison talks a lot about hope, but yet when hope came knocking, they locked the door. The first step must be speeding up the vaccination rollout.

Labor’s proposal of a $300 payment to every fully vaccinated Australian would plant a foot on the accelerator.

Experience shows that incentives like this work. It would put a jab in the arms of Australians and a shot in the arm of the economy.

Compared to the costs that lockdowns inflict on our nation every week, the price tag for such a program would be far less. It will be an effective investment in our nation’s future.

As we speed up the initial vaccinations, we also need to be securing booster shots.
Those first two jabs are essential, but they are not the end of the story.

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Vaccination leave for those who need it is another crucial ingredient.

We need to remove every conceivable obstacle that might stand between an Australian and their jab.

Speedy vaccinations and fair access to vaccines are the road to the safe ending of lockdowns.

Nobody wants lockdowns to last a day longer than they have to.

That is why Labor is supporting the national plan while seeking to strengthen it. A faster route to the safe ending of lockdowns would be an effective world class national contact tracing COVIDSafe app. Such an app would be one of the practical ways whereby we could ensure our contact tracers are world class and support businesses, which want to protect their customers and their workers.

The third part of our plan is the protection of our children, not least vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds.

Canada is one country that has treated it as a race and has already fully vaccinated 60 per cent of that age group.

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The most effective way for us to emulate their success is through a school-based program and that is something we should be preparing right now.

The Government needs to either include them in national targets or specify vaccine targets for that age group.

Children should be vaccinated quickly, and their parents deserve to know when – not least the great many dealing with the added stresses of home schooling.

We desperately want to see our children back at school, but not if it involves putting them at risk of coming home with COVID.

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We also need to secure a paediatric vaccine supply for children aged under 12 to prepare for when vaccines are approved for this age group.

The US Government entered into an agreement with Pfizer in June to ensure doses are available for 65 million children there when approval is given.

We should also make sure our schools are properly ventilated to minimise the risk of COVID spread.

Fourth, we need to prepare for the future – and part of that has to be manufacturing mRNA vaccines here.

The pandemic has been a wake-up call to us all, reminding us how risky it is for Australia to be the last link in the global supply chain.

We cannot be content pleading for leftovers from nations that did plan ahead. We have the people, the talent and the resources to stand on our own feet. We also need purpose-built quarantine.

As the old quarantine station on the North Head of Sydney Harbour reminds us, it is part of our heritage. It was the right idea then, it is the right idea now. Throughout the pandemic, Labor has made constructive proposals.

In that spirit, let’s learn from the mistakes made with vaccines and quarantine.
Australia needs certainty going forward. Let’s ensure we have the comprehensive plan that gives it.

Anthony Albanese is the Leader of the Australian Labor Party.

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